Poet: Emily Dickinson
Death is a Dialogue between
Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Year: Published/Written in 1955
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Death is a Dialogue Between
Emily Dickenson’s poem, Death is a Dialogue Between, is a poem about how a spirit moves on. Dickenson begins her poem in the first two stanzas by declaring that death is only a conversation between a spirit and its earthly remains. This can be seen as very humorous because it is so contradictory from Deaths typical morbid image and sets up a light humorous mood for the rest of the poem. Dickenson begins the dialogue in line three, by having Death tell the spirit to “dissolve” (3) into the earth with its earthly remains. From this, we can conclude that Death is representing the devil because he wants the spirit to go into the “Ground” (5) after death, which can also be interpreted as hell. After that, the spirit replies by calling Death “Sir” (3) in a humorous manner and telling death that his trust lies with God and therefore the he won’t ever have to go to hell. Dickenson then continues to say that death doubts the spirits reply and argues back to try and convince the spirit again. Dickenson adds more clues to prove that death is the devil by capitalizing Ground to emphasize its symbolism of hell. The spirit then turns away from death and stops listening to his arguments and leaves off for heaven, leaving only his remains as an “Overcoat of Clay” (8).
Dickenson uses many poetic devices in her poem. The first is her use of alliteration. By using alliteration, especially in the first stanza, Dickenson sought to set up the silly, playful tone of the poem that could continue throughout the rest of the poem. The next important poetic device that Dickenson applies is her use of diction. Dickenson used the alternate definitions of the words “Sir”(3) and “Clay”(8) to deepen the meaning in the poem. By using the word “Sir”(3), Dickenson is able to play off of an alternate sarcastic definition of sir to represent that even though death may be viewed as a powerful being, the spirit doesn’t need to fear its power because of its “Trust” with God. Another example is her use of the word clay. By using the word “Clay”(8) Dickenson is able to convey that all the spirit left behind was an old, ruined body, without corrupting the poems playful style.
Emily Dickenson had many different key structural choices when writing this poem. By choosing common meter, Dickenson was able to make great use of the alternating unstressed and stressed syllables to give the poem a playful tone. Dickenson also used the trimeter lines in common meter to highlight valuable points throughout the poem. In line two, Dickenson announces who the poem will be about; in line four, Dickenson uses the line to highlight the presence of God and create suspense because the spirit has denied the devil; in line 6, Dickenson uses the six syllable line to indicate the turning point where the spirit finally defeats the devils lure; Finally in line 8 Dickenson uses the meter to enlarge the comedy placed on what the spirit left for the dust to dissolve and enlarge the humorous ending. Another key form of structure that Dickenson uses is capitalization. Because “trust” is capitalized in line 4, the reader knows that it must have a special meaning and therefore can imply that the “trust”(4) must be a divine trust with god. Another important capitalized word is the word “argues” in line 5. Dickenson uses this capitalization to emphasize the fact that even though you may have a strong divine trust with god, the devil will argue and keep trying to lure you into his own trap. Another structural component is Dickenson’s use of dashes to stress important sections of the poem. In line three Dickenson begins in a dark tone by having death command the spirit to dissolve. To intensify the moment, Dickenson uses a dash to create a dramatic pause in order to contrast the dark command with the sarcastic reply said by the spirit to make the humor in the play even more comical. The final structural component Dickenson applies is her use of the period. Dickenson only uses the period twice, with her most important example at the end of the poem. Dickenson uses a period as a sign of termination to show that the journey for the spirit and its struggles against Lucifer are finally over.
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